For many American students, pursuing an undergraduate degree is the next step after graduating from high school. But not everyone starts to finish.
About 1 in 4 students entered college in the fall of 2020 they didn’t come back to any US college the following fall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, and those numbers were similar to before the pandemic.
Adjusting from high school to college can be difficult. Before students make that transition, and potentially start accumulating debt, they should consider whether they are academically and emotionally ready for the change.
“Teens can gauge whether they are emotionally ready for college by taking an honest look at their self-management habits, including how they respond to stress, how they manage multiple deadlines in a given week and how they seek help when struggling,” wrote Lindsey Geller, a psychologist. Clinical at the Child Mind Institute, in an email.
Evaluate your self-discipline
Deciding whether you’re ready to go to college often comes down to “realizing how much discipline you have and how much structure you need,” says Andrew Belasco, CEO of College Transitions, a college admissions consulting firm.
For some students, college is the first time they live away from home. Without high school and family structures, the responsibility to attend class, complete schoolwork, and meet deadlines is theirs.
While many teens welcome this newfound freedom, it can be a concern for those who feel insecure about their ability to manage stress on their own, says Geller. This is especially true when students come from homes where they feel their behavior is “micro-managed” by their parents or guardians, she says.
Monica Jones, college and career readiness coach at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington, Kentucky.
“If they don’t have those core skills, they won’t have the maturity they need to be successful in college,” she says.
Part of the college experience is the social aspect, experts say, and creating social boundaries is a critical skill for college success.
says Colin Paparella, founder of DC College Counseling. “Do I want to go out tonight even though I have class at 8 am tomorrow?” “
Students who might struggle with this should decide what type of school is best for them, Pabarella says. Smaller schools with smaller classes will allow for more intimate and accountable settings. She says that larger schools with large lecture classes make it easier to miss and feel unaccountable.
College-ready student habits
In general, says Geller, the more independent a student is about entering college, the more prepared they will feel once they get there and deal with these stresses and other feelings.
Geller says a student’s healthy habits can also play a major role in indicating if they are ready to enter college.
“Teens who already practice healthy habits to take care of their physical and mental health by getting enough sleep, balanced eating, and exercising are more likely to use these strategies in their new environments,” says Gellar. “These practices can help maintain stress control and prevent future episodes of depression and anxiety.”
Geller says parents can help prepare their students by giving them more independence in the years before college.
“It also means when faced with a problem, letting the teen solve the problems rather than pushing the parent to pounce on ‘fixing’ the situation for them,” she adds.
What if I’m not ready now?
By the end of their high school career, Belasco says, some students experience burnout. When deciding whether they are ready to enter college, students should consider why they are going to college – if it is with an external or internal motivation.
“Students who do really well in college, whether they’re very good at or not, are the ones who really come up with why they understand learning, why they go after some of the things that they do,” he says. “Yes, they do it partly for class and partly for class, but there must be something else in there.”
If students don’t know this answer and want to spend some time figuring it out, they have a variety of and optionssuch as joining the military, attending a trade school, or taking a gap year. During the gap year, students can travel, work or volunteer and find out what they want to study when they finally go to college.
“It gives them the opportunity to be independent, chart their own path and not feel like they are on the path others set for them,” says Mandy Heller-Adler, founder of International College Advisers. “They have the opportunity to take a moment to see who they are versus who others want them to be.”
While a gap year can be a good option for students who have the means to do so, one risk, says Belasco, is that some students will have difficulty returning to “the structure and prestige of academia.” Just like figuring out why a student is going to college, students should determine why they are spending a gap year, he says.
If students are considering a gap year, Heller-Adler says, they should go through the college application process during high school as if they were planning to enroll immediately. She says completing a college application with the help of school counselors and teachers during high school is much easier than doing it later.
“I think colleges prefer the kid who doesn’t come if he’s not quite ready than the kid who comes in and has problems,” she says.
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